In the beginning, before the arrival of the railroad and before there was a town called Altoona, the pioneers near what would become Altoona met for worship. I. H. Woodrow, a founder of the Altoona Christian Church, hosted the first worship service at his farm on Mud Creek in 1860.
Altoona Christian Church traces its history to those early days of neighbors meeting in non-denominational services that continued for several years at the Woodrow/Mud Creek School.
On July 13, 1867, a group of 26 people of various denominations met to form the first formal congregation. Altoona Christian considers that date to be the founding of the church.
When the railroad arrived and built a small depot near where Burget Mill stands today, church meetings moved to town and the first Sabbath School began meeting in the railroad building.
After a decade of joint worship, the Methodists built their own building in 1870. The Christian Church held services there until 1872 when their white frame building was completed at 402 Second St. SE. The building still stands and serves as a private residence today.
The Twentieth Century brought a new, modern brick building at 103 Third Street in Olde Town dedicated in April, 1911, and serving until the 1980s when the congregation moved to its present location.
From those pioneering days of meeting in a one-room school and baptisms in the nearby Mud Creek until the 21st Century, Altoona Christian has served Altoona and the wider faith community.
During J. B. Vawter’s tenure as minister from 1875-1887, he hosted a ministerial meeting at his home. Vawter, D. R. Lucas, pastor of Central Christian Church in Des Moines and President Carpenter of Oskaloosa College proposed moving the college to Des Moines. Today that college is known as Drake University. Vawter served on the school’s first board of directors. Students studying for the ministry at Drake often filled the pulpit in Altoona in those early years.
When Iowa Governor Robert Ray proposed resettling Southeast Asian refugees in Iowa in the 1980s, Altoona Christian accepted the challange to host families.
Today, Altoona Christian Church holds two Sunday morning services. Members participate in the choir, bell choir, children’s choir and special music provided by talented members of all ages. There is an active youth program including Sunday School, church camps and mission trips.
Altoona Christian’s outreach carries out monthly projects such as casseroles for the Salvation Army, partnering with Caring Hands Outreach to provide meals at holidays, food pantry and personal hygiene donations, children’s books for incarcerated parents to read to their children, adopting families at Christmas to name a few.
The church welcomes the community serving as a host to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, TOPS and Narcotics Anonymous. The congregation hosted a team of bicyclists from the U. S. Air Force during RAGBRAI’s most recent stay in Altoona.
Altoona Christian Church will celebrate its 150th Anniversary year throughout 2016-17 with community activities and special worship services.
(by Margaret Ludington)